Publisher chooses Xserve over Windows, Linux servers

Torch Publishing, a newspaper and contract publishing company, has replaced its legacy file servers with Apple Xserves running OS X. Kim Kohen, Torch’s group prepress and systems manager, said the migration was both an upgrade and an implementation of a more flexible platform.

“We installed the Xserve to replace our ageing AppleshareIP6 file servers in the prepress area. We had two Appleshare servers but they were showing their age both in hardware and in disk capacity,” Kohen said. “The Xserve represents an opportunity to move to a more robust OS with some intriguing options for expansion -- most notably the Xserve RAID. We were also hopeful of some performance improvement under load and a greatly increased storage capacity in a more dedicated enclosure.”

Torch’s Xserve configuration is a single processor unit with 1.75GB of RAM and four 120GB disks. The first disk is used for OS X, disk two for transient (weekly) data, and disks three and four are configured as a striped RAID array for archived material.

“Our use of the Xserve is cross platform file sharing,” Kohen said. “We do not use the XServe for Mail, Web or FTP as we have separate machines for these functions. We run Communigate Pro for mail on an OS X client, and another OS X client for Web (running Apache, MySQL and PHP). Our backup server is replicated every two hours using Unix sync tools with an OS X GUI.”

The Xserve is connected to a gigabit switch, which is linked to the company’s departmental 10/100 switches.

“Stability has been excellent -- the only restarts have been for software updates and we haven't had any service crashes,” Kohen said.

Kohen’s motives for choosing the Xserve range from a prior association with Apple to licensing and support issues.

“The Xserve always had the front running as we're predominantly a Mac organisation as far as prepress is concerned,” Kohen said. “We did have a serious look at Linux -- we currently have a few Linux servers here running non-critical operations -- but it was deemed that support could be an issue in a crisis. Ease of administration was certainly an issue as well, especially for non-technical Mac folk. Windows servers were not considered because of licensing issues.”

Although Kohen wouldn’t compare the value proposition of the Xserve with competing products, he said the company would have gone with Linux on Dell otherwise.

“The Xserve itself was in the region of $9000 configured with four drive modules. Linux on a 1U Dell would have been cheaper but not by a huge factor and initial cost is not our prime motivation for purchase,” Kohen said. “We view quality and ease of use as important considerations for eventual ROI benefits. Whilst we've paid a small premium, we feel this will be returned very quickly.”

He said the disadvantages of Xserve were “Extreme reliance on DNS even for very basic operation, expensive for small implementations before unlimited licensing benefits kick in, and small outstanding bug issues.”

Kohen said enterprises may be reluctant to move to Apple systems because of former bias.

“There are going to be many 'tunnel visioned' organisations who can't see beyond Microsoft as a viable server platform and they'll be missing out on obvious licensing advantages,” he said. “The OSX Server software performs extremely well with Windows clients. We have seen better performance from Windows machines than we have from Mac OS 9 clients -- the Xserve really hoots for Windows.”

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